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The Practice Of Silence


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I recently came across a quotation from Bro. David Steindl-Rast about the practice of “silence”. Steindl-Rast is a Catholic Benedictine monk, who has also studied and practiced Buddhism with Zen masters. He is therefore a contemplative, and as such he practices silence.


Here is the quote:


"When chant music stops, sometimes quite abruptly, an audible silence reverberates ... This silence is not merely sound's absence, but a mysterious presence, the immense nothingness that is our origin and our home. If we listen carefully, we discover that when all is said and done, chant inducts us into this silence that is the ground of our being." - David Steindl-Rast


If you have ever engaged in chanting, as a practice, you will recognize the experience of what he calls “an audible silence”. It is within this silence he claims that the “ground of our being” is to be experienced. But, rather than referring to this silence as “immense nothingness”, I would call it “emptiness and cognizance”, a term used in some schools of Buddhism. In this context, “emptiness” is a synonym for the “ineffable”.


To be cognizant or aware of the ineffable is to experience, in a non-conceptual manner, the “ground of being” which has become popular in some Christian circles as another name for “God”, or the “Absolute”. Whatever you decide to call it, the point is that it is an understanding beyond the intellect, which is more akin to “realization” or “intuition”. At the same time, a certain amount of intellectual work is required to become completely aware of how this process works.


Chanting is not the only way one can become aware of this experience. Music and singing can also lead to this realization. In these cases, silence is implicit in the melody, it being the brief interval between notes or chords. There could be no music without these intervals of silence. The interchange of sound and silence is perhaps what allows us to “feel good” when we hear our favorite song.


In meditation it is sometimes possible to become aware of the “space” between our thoughts. Within this space, one can also become cognizant of the “immense nothingness/emptiness” of our true nature.


For most of us, these experiences are fleeting at best. The purpose of these practices is to continually bring our awareness back to the primordial state of our original nature, which again is called “emptiness and cognizance”. In time, we may come to recognize this state more and more and, ultimately, “live” in this state. And, to live in this state is what many might call “enlightenment”, “nirvana”, or the “kingdom of heaven”.




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I have read the same conclusions from other writers. I do find personally that focusing on 'no sound' or silence does seem to draw ones attention to the present moment where consciousness exists without thought.



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Steve thanks again. In my meditation I find music is like a bead that keeps one of my senses occupied while I move on. Some people find incense occupies another sense. Some a work of art or sunset for another. These hints I think help us to withdraw from the thoughts, waves and vibrations on the surface to open up to the clear waters below or the subtle vibrations below the superficial. We don't climb mountains to take a selfie, but to see the beauty around, above and within us.

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